University of Calgary

Robert Kelly’s new book argues for power of creativity in classroom

UToday HomeMarch 19, 2013

By Heath McCoy

In his new book, Robert Kelly finds global examples of education at its finest through creative practices. Photo by Riley BrandtIn his new book, Robert Kelly finds global examples of education at its finest through creative practices. Photo by Riley BrandtWhen Robert Kelly engages his students on incorporating creativity into educational practice, he’s not merely advocating for more creative arts programs in schools.

Rather, the scope of what the associate professor in the Department of Art is proposing is absolutely game-changing.

“I’m trying to transform educational culture,” says Kelly, who is also an adjunct associate professor in the Faculty of Education, where he co-ordinates the Creativity in Educational Practice graduate program as part of the Interdisciplinary MEd degree.

Kelly believes his mission can be achieved and in his new book, Educating for Creativity: A Global Conversation, he deftly points out how the goal is being met in schools around the world from elementary to post-secondary levels.

Focusing on over 20 academic institutions from Canada and the U.S. to India and Denmark – with instructors from each centre handling a chapter in the book – Kelly drives home his point that developing creativity should be central to the educational process.

“There’s been a disengagement in education,” Kelly says. “Students spend much of their time in public education gathering information and then compliantly restating it, and they get measured on their ability to do that.”

That approach is uninspiring and counterproductive, Kelly feels. “Disassociation and emotional detachment is rampant,” he says.

The innovative schools in Educating For Creativity, on the other hand, are “bringing education back to the students” with a focus on “creativity and design thinking.”

Riverside School in India, for example, puts children-designed social innovation to work with such community enhancing projects as cleaning up the main street or teaching parents to read and write.

Then there’s the private university in Denmark, KaosPilots, focused on creating sustainable businesses with a social conscience. In one KaosPilots initiative, students fix trashed bicycles and rent them to tourists in Copenhagen, ultimately using the profits to send the bikes to underdeveloped countries like Kenya and Tanzania.

“These students get to generate ideas and experiment and feel validated,” Kelly says. “Are we educating our students to be consumers of data and compliant re-tellers, or, are we equipping them with the disposition that will enable them to hypothesize, instigate, create and problem-solve?”

So how do educators foster creativity in their classrooms?

“Educating educators is the epicenter of this book,” says Kelly. “Generally, the creative capacity of the educator has to be greater than that of the student to enable an educational culture of creativity.”

Kelly says his book provides teachers with a “vocabulary of creativity.”

“You have to have a professional educational culture, with an understanding of creative practice from a first-hand perspective and the know-how to enable it,” says Kelly. “We’re trying to transform educational practice.”


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